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Should the US Legal Drinking Age Change?

1623 words (6 pages) Essay in Social Policy

30/07/19 Social Policy Reference this

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Underage drinking is a big problem today in America and is only getting worse. According to the CDC, “excessive drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths among underage youth each year.” Today it seems like kids are starting to drink at a much younger age, which can be incredibly dangerous. Lowering the drinking age from 21 to anything below would be an extremely irresponsible and deadly choice. Statistics show that a younger drinking age is known for more fatalities. The majority of teenagers don’t know how to handle their alcohol in a responsible manner, leading to many potentially dangerous situations. The drinking age should remain at 21 and not be lowered in the US. In this essay, I will tell you the main reasons the drinking age should remain at 21. These include the rule saves lives, the brain doesn’t fully develop until at least 21, and many consequences result from drinking earlier in life.

The most important aspect of keeping the drinking age at 21 is that it saves lives. “Minimum Legal Drinking Age laws save approximately 800-900 lives each year in reductions in traffic fatalities involving young drivers” (James C. Fell). Drinking and driving is the biggest problem associated with underage people drinking. It is proven that the largest amount of people who drink and drive are under the age of 21. Teens just aren’t responsible enough to understand the serious dangers that could occur with drinking and driving. The 2015 Youth Risk Behavior survey found that among high school students, during the past 30 days, 20% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol. Before the enactment of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, the legal age when alcohol could be purchased varied from state to state. Many organizations didn’t approve of this and pushed for the drinking age to be set at 21. Due to these outcries, President Reagan signed the aforementioned National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984. “Traffic reports show a 61 percent decrease in alcohol related fatalities among drivers under 21 between 1982 and 1998” (Ethan Trex). It’s proven that this law saved lives when it was enacted and it still saving them now, so there is no reason for it to be lowered now. Lowering the drinking age would just put lives in danger and significantly increase the amount of deaths associated with drinking. Research published by the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs states, “although many young people disobey the drinking age, the evidence shows that it has depressed drinking and saved lives.” It is true that teens still drink despite of the law but lowering it would cause even more of them to drink which would produce deadly results. Many other countries have their minimum drinking age set below 21. The experiences of those other countries show that the federal government decision to enact the law was a good one. In 1999, New Zealand lowered its drinking age from 20 to 18, and the result was a dramatic increase in automobile crashes. European countries have significantly lower drinking age laws and studies show that 10% of Europeans are linked to early death or bad health because of drinking alcohol. If all these studies show that other countries have issues with minimum drinking age laws then why would we want to change it in the US and risk the consequences. “If the minimum drinking age is lowered to 18 in the US, the result would be greater availability of alcohol to those not only to 18-20 year olds but also to those younger than 18. Studies in the U.S have shown that lowering the drinking age from 18 also increases alcohol related crashes for 15-17 year olds” (James Fell). Having the drinking age lowered results in even younger teens being affected by the dangers of alcohol use. The simple fact is that the 21 law saves lives and is, therefore, nonnegotiable.

Other than the 21 law just saving lives, the human brain doesn’t even fully develop until at least 21. More and more research has been released in recent years concerning the stages of brain development. Studies have shown that the brain does not finish developing until a person is in their early twenties. During this period, alcohol negatively affects all parts of the brain. It is not coincidental that fatalities increase as the drinking agThee is lowered. “Brain maturation culminates in the prefrontal cortex. This is the area that controls judgements and weighing risks and consequences” (Karen Arnold-Burger). This means that this area of the brain is not developed until the age of 25 and those under are more likely to engage in thrill seeking activity, and less able to appreciate the consequences of risky behavior. Alcohol impairs judgement and heightens risk-taking behavior as well as slowing perceptual and motor skills, so given to a person who has an immature brain function in these areas already, research shows that the effects are even more exaggerated. Knowing this it is clear that it is extremely dangerous to lower the minimum age for drinking and have alcohol more accessible to teens. The adolescent brain is a work in progress, marked by significant development in areas of the brain responsible for learning, memory, complex thinking, planning, inhibition, and emotional regulation. The neurotoxic effect of excessive alcohol use is a danger to these key regions of the maturing adolescent brain. “Research indicates that the human brain continues to develop into a person’s early twenties and that exposure of the developing brain to alcohol may have long-lasting effects on intellectual capabilities” (David J Hanson). Mixing in alcohol with teens whose brains are still developing wouldn’t be a smart move, and the 21 law keeps alcohol from the hands of those teens. People on the other side argue that since the legal age to get married, to vote, and to fight in a war is eighteen then drinking should be as well. However all those things that people are able to do at eighteen aren’t harmful to ones or others well-being or health, drinking is. The affect alcohol can have on a younger persons body or mind is extremely different from those legally allowed to drink. People under the age of 21 just aren’t responsible enough to drink yet since their brains aren’t even close to full development yet.

Another reason for keeping the drinking age at 21 is there are many different consequences from starting to drink at a younger age. If people are predisposed to alcohol at a younger age, the amount of problems that are associated with it are endless. Drinking alcohol at the legal age cause result in issues so drinking even younger than that can be a huge problem. The CDC states, “youth who drink alcohol are more likely to experience school problems, social problems, legal problems, physical problems, physical and sexual assault, memory problems, abuse of other drugs, and a higher risk for suicide and homicide.” For every year we delay the onset of drinking, studies have shown we substantially increase the likelihood that children will never have a problem with alcohol or drugs. Drinking greatly increased the number of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases among young people. Drinking before 21 also results in the higher chance of being violent or being involved in violent activities. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “up to 86 percent of homicide offenders, 37 percent of assault offenders, and 60 percent of sexual offenders were using alcohol at the time of the crime.” Binge drinking is a major problem with younger people. The chances of becoming a binge drinker later in life are higher for those who start drinking before there 21st birthday. When considering that adolescence is a time of rash decision making, the dangers of legalizing alcohol among minors become that much more palpable. Drinking with younger people also increases the risk of depression and suicide. Data from the 1990-2004 US Multiple Cause of Death files and the US Census and American Community Survey states, “there were more than 200,00 suicides and 130,000 homicides among people who turned 18 between 1967 and 1989, the years during which the legal drinking age was still moving.” With all these risks, it is apparent that keeping the drinking age at 21 is the best choice and lowering it would put teens at risk.

With all the consequences that lowering the drinking age would have on people, it is clearly evident that the minimum drinking age should remain at 21. I’ve explained the reasons that the drinking age should stay at 21: it saves lives, the brain doesn’t fully develop until at least 21, and many consequences result from drinking earlier in life. I encourage you to support this law when debating whether or not the drinking age should be lowered. The lives and wellbeing of many young people are at stake if the age were to be lowered, repealing it would be a grave mistake.

Works Cited

  • @meredithcm, Meredith Melnick. “Study: Another Reason to Keep the Drinking Age at 21.” Time, Time, 16 Nov. 2011, healthland.time.com/2011/11/16/study-another-reason-to-keep-the-drinking-age-at-21/. 
  • “CDC – Fact Sheets-Underage Drinking – Alcohol.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm. 
  • Lopez. “Sorry, College Students, but the Drinking Age Should Stay at 21.” Vox, Vox, 19 Jan. 2016, www.vox.com/2016/1/19/10761802/drinking-age. 
  • “THE TOP FIVE REASONS WE SHOULD KEEP THE DRINKING AGE AT 21.” Regional Prevention Center, 14 Jan. 2009, 4prevention.wordpress.com/2008/08/26/the-top-five-reasons-we-should-keep-the-drinking-age-at-21/. 
  • “Why Is the Drinking Age 21?” Mental Floss, 8 Apr. 2018, mentalfloss.com/article/19437/why-drinking-age-21. 
  • “Why the U.S. Legal Drinking Age Should Be Kept at 21.” Our Thinking About Drinking, www.ourthinkingaboutdrinking.com/opinions/why-the-u-s-legal-drinking-age-should-be-kept-at-21/.
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